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GEORGES DE PEYREBRUNE (English Translation)

Georges de Peyrebrune (1841 – 1917) was an eminent literary figure among women writers of the

end of the 19th century, but today she has almost fallen into oblivion. Mathilde Marie Georgina de Peyrebrune was born at Peyre-Brune, in the parish of Sainte-Orse in Dordogne on 24 May 1841, the illegitimate daughter of Françoise Thérèse Céline Judicis, of humble background. Her father, Georges Johnston, was a wealthy local land-owner who lived in the castle of Redon. His fortune enabled him to contribute to the education of the young Georgina Elisabeth in one of the religious establishments in Périgueux.

On 26 January 1860 she married Paul Adrien Numa Eimery from Chancelade. It was not a marriage of love, and it did not develop into a happy union. She refers to it as traumatic, and in the marriage register she signed “G. Johnston de Peyrebrune”.

Very early in life she demonstrated her gift and taste for writing. Under various pen-names she wrote poems, some of which were noticed and published in local newspapers.

After the Commune, she settled in Paris, with “several manuscripts in her luggage”. Thanks to certain contacts and recommendations, she was gradually accepted into the Paris literary scene. This was to become the theme of her novel Le Roman d’un bas-bleu (1892). Various newspapers had published short stories which she brought together in 1881 under the title Contes en l’air. During the following year, several of her novels were serialized, among which was Marco in the Revue des deux Mondes. This brought her some success, along with Gatienne in 1882. The latter was intended to be turned into a play, but this never happened, because of the whims of Sarah Bernhardt.

Throughout the 1880s, books came out at regular intervals: Victoire la Rouge and Jean Bernard in 1883, Les Frères Colombe in 1885, Les Ensevelis in 1887 – a novel inspired by the catastrophe which happened in the quarry at Chancelade in 1885. She became famous, and she contributed to a number of reviews and newspapers: La Revue Bleue, Le Télégraphe, Le Figaro, Le Journal and Marguerite Durand’s La Fronde.

She had become a prominent woman-writer. Her favorite theme was “the portrayal of women’s distressing existence”. Through this description, she committed herself to a form of feminism, and thus became a person whose opinion and advice were sought after. Her close friends were Camille Delaville and Rachilde or Gabrielle Réval. They met and discussed their points of view in the salons, and helped one another in many ways.

The friendship, esteem and confidence which Georges de Peyrebrune shared with many of her contemporaries encouraged her to enter a network of women writers who firmly believed that in a male-dominated world it was essential to set up structures for, and by, women. Thus her name appeared in the Comité du Prix Vie Heureuse and in the various literary juries organized by the magazine Femina, and in 1904 she became a member of the first jury of the Prix Femina which chose Myriam Harry, who had been turned down by the Goncourt.

Georges de Peyrebrune’s feminism was undeniable and contradictory. However, she transcended it at other levels: she was clearly in favour of Dreyfus, alongside her friend Joseph Reinach, and in 1883 she was to write an open letter to the anarchist Vaillant to express her opposition to capital punishment. She was a widely read woman, intellectual and mondaine, interested in scientific and philosophical developments, and attracted by masonic ideas. However, she found herself at odds with the new social context taking shape at the beginning of the 20th century, and which was to gain momentum with the outbreak of World War I.

She was twice awarded a prize by the Académie Française, for Vers l’amour (1896) and Au pied du mât (1899).

Before she died, in great destitution, on 16 November 1917, she had expressed the wish to be cremated. A small group of her most faithful friends, including Séverine and Gabrielle Réval, attended the ceremony. Her ashes rest in the columbarium in the Père-Lachaise cemetery in Paris.

Jean Paul Socard